Maurice at Stanford January 2014Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg loves his job. But he says feeling good is not good enough. For true satisfaction, Maurice says he must know that his work has impact.

“I can’t get up in the morning without knowing if we’re making a difference,” he says. “I mean, really, what is the point of coming to work?”

Maurice shared his perspectives on in the importance of measuring anti-slavery successes last week with Stanford University students who are considering careers in international nonprofit work. His lecture was hosted by the Program on Human Rights at Stanford’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Free the Slaves is nearly at the point of helping free its 10,000th person since the organization launched in 2000, Maurice told students. But FTS can’t fly by the seat of its pants when it comes to conducting field work. Instead, Maurice described how FTS focuses on addressing the social conditions that make slavery possible. These include a lack of access to education and employment, and unfair systems of justice.

The challenge is knowing where to draw the line separating direct causes of slavery from everything else that’s not right with local, national and international institutions.

“When you are a social justice organization, you want to touch on every conceivable cause of the issue you’re trying to fix,” Maurice said. “At the same time, one of the things you have to do is have a mission that’s both clear and focused.”

FTS has recently become more analytical in documenting its hypothesis about how slavery develops and determining the types of evidence that will prove or disprove the organization’s theory of change. By analyzing which factors allow slavery to exist in India, Nepal, Haiti, Brazil, the Congo and Ghana — and which of those it can change — FTS maximizes its own bottom line: the number of people it has helped free.

“In 2013, our little $3 million nonprofit got 3,100 people out of slavery, worked with 1,200 community groups, trained 1,500 police, and our work led to the arrest of 105 perpetrators,” Maurice said. “All of that makes me believe that we are faithful to our values.”

Documenting its theory of change and the evidence behind it is also helping Free the Slaves look toward the future. FTS is creating a new 10-year vision, and part of the plan involves expanding FTS successes to other parts of the world where slavery takes hold.

No matter how successful the organization is in the communities where it works with local partners, its work is still too localized to move the global needle on slavery, Maurice conceded.  For every one of the 3,100 people FTS helped free in 2013, more than 5,000 people are still enslaved. That means there’s plenty of work left to do.

artworks for freedom logoLast Friday evening, I had the privilege of attending the opening of a new art exhibit in Washington, Bought and Sold, by a longtime friend of Free the Slaves who has photographed our work around the world, Kay Chernush.

Beneath the statistics about slavery and trafficking are very human, very personal stories of  individuals. Great art captures that experience.

ArtWorks for Freedom, run by Kay, helps share the slavery experience as a means of raising awareness and expanding the constituency for anti-slavery projects.

The images Kay has created are very powerful and compelling. The words accompanying each image are those of the slavery survivor whose story inspired that artwork.

Depiction of cruelty to a child: “After first time, they stitch you up. Two, three four time.”

Child cruelty: “After first time, they stitch you up. Two, three four time.”

Depiction of exploitation: "24/7, taking care of the household, the children. Never allowed to go out. I was their slave."

Exploitation: “24/7, taking care of the household, the children. Never allowed to go out. I was their slave.”

Depiction of compassion: "He was the pain in my eyes. He could see my human. He helped me escape."

Compassion: “He saw the pain in my eyes. He could see my human. He helped me escape.”

Depiction of defiance: " with this picture I reverse the voodoo onto my trafficker. I am not afraid anymore."

Defiance: “With this picture I reverse the voodoo onto my trafficker. I am not afraid anymore.”

Slavery is above all an effort to deprive people of their humanity, to render them without feature or voice, what Orlando Patterson called “the social death” that is the essence of slavery.

Images such as those portrayed here remind us that those enslaved are very much alive and very human. My hope is that they will help galvanize action and that more people will be moved to open their hearts and raise their voices for freedom.

January is a special month for the anti-slavery movement and Free the Slaves. It is trafficking awareness month, and there is a wide range of actions you can take to make a difference around the world.

It’s also an important month in U.S. history: Congress gave final passage to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 150 years ago this month, making slavery illegal.

And last, but not least, January kicks off the 15th anniversary year for Free the Slaves!


Here are simple steps you can take to make January a month of action:

  1. FIRST: Spread the word that slavery still exists but can be overcome. Tell everyone you know. Play a Free the Slaves video where you work or study or worship to start a discussion. Pick a Free the Slaves book for your book club. Check out our teaching and activities and case study guides for classroom projects, and our slavery in history timeline for student research papers. Visit out Facebook page or Twitter feed, then like or follow us, share our posts and tweets, and join the conversation. Visit the National Archives online for details on the 13th Amendment.
  2. SECOND: Find out if there’s slavery in your shopping cart, investment portfolio or products. Visit to see which companies are working to eliminate slavery from their products. If you work in a company’s purchasing unit, see our Becoming A Slavery-Free Business video to learn how to keep slavery-tainted materials out of your product supply chains. Be a mindful consumer, investor or corporation.
  3. THIRD: Raise funds for the movement any way you can. See our personal fundraising guide to learn how you can get a micro-campaign going in your community.

Download our Taking Action to End Slavery guide for even more ideas. We will have more details for you as the year unfolds about our 15th anniversary as an organization.

We thank you for your continuing support, and we begin 2015 filled with energy and optimism. Together, we will conquer slavery.

As 2014 comes to a close, I’d like to connect you to the courageous Free the Slaves country directors and the communities in which they are carrying out groundbreaking work. They are your personal ambassadors of liberation. They have dedicated their lives to empowering people to cross the bridge from slavery to freedom.

On this final day to make a tax-deductible contribution, join them this New Year’s and make a donation that helps us build that bridge.

fts country director montage

Today is the end of 2014, but it could also be the beginning of freedom for thousands through your support of the work of the abolitionists pictured above. We hope you will help us reach our year-end campaign goal of $180,000. We need $53,687 more to get there. We need your help today!

Throughout 2014, I have seen the power of community. People throughout the U.S. have built a community of supporters who make the front-line, community-building anti-slavery work of Free the Slaves possible. You can see the successes in our 2014 year-end video.



We end 2014 and begin 2015 confident that with your continued support we can conquer slavery.

Freeing slaves is about community. It’s about strengthening community resistance in slavery hot spots so that traffickers cannot prey on vulnerable children, women and men. And it’s about building a community of supporters among those of us who live with the blessing of liberty, and then building a bridge between those who need help and those who can provide it.

That sense of connecting communities is the key to Executive Director Maurice Middleberg’s end-of-year video message to Free the Slaves supporters.

“It is our privilege to help build today’s bridges to freedom,” Maurice says, “to link those resisting slavery with their supporters is inspiring and joyful work. We enter 2015, our 15th year as an organization, confident that with your continued help, more and more people will cross into freedom.”

See more videos of FTS front-line operations, including rescues and stories of hope from slavery survivors, on our Vimeo page.